Ann Weston Sistrunk is a Master of Healthcare Administration student here at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Ann Weston believes in improving the health of rural communities by taking upstream action to better the health care systems that serve them. In the spring, she worked on a Research Assistantship with the School of Public Health Division of Health Policy and Management at M Health Fairview. Learn more about her experience as a UMN SPH student during the COVID-19 pandemic by reading her responses below.
What drew you to public health?
[Ann Weston] I have always been interested in a career in health care, but giving a name to my specific health care interests came through an experience in college. As a public policy leadership student at the University of Mississippi, I found myself drawn to topics in health policy, medical ethics, and the health disparities that disproportionately impact rural Mississippians. Through my thesis research, I had the opportunity to travel with one of my professors to interview health care administrators in rural hospitals, wellness centers, and health systems across the state. In speaking with these administrators and public health professionals, I came to understand how much of an impact these leaders had in informing policy, advocating for the health of Mississippians, and bettering the health care system for all Mississippians. After this experience, I came to understand that these were public health and health care administration interests, and that is how I found the MHA program at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
How has COVID-19 impacted your student life?
[Ann Weston] Although the COVID-19 pandemic has taken me away from my MHA program and classmates physically, I still maintain a close connection with them and program faculty and staff, and feel just as supported from hundreds of miles away. From Zoom happy hours to our own virtual Mayo huddle room, the MHA program has continued to be a part of my daily life outside of the classroom. One of the reasons I came to the University of Minnesota was due to the strong cohort community that the MHA program fostered, and this continued connection has been critical during COVID-19.
In what ways are you working on or responding to the COVID-19 outbreak?
[Ann Weston] Through my Research Assistantship at SPH, I have been given the opportunity to work alongside another MHA student, Natalie Gaines, to assist Mary Edwards, the vice president of public policy at M Health Fairview, with the health system’s COVID-19 response. Along with coordinating policy work across health systems and government agencies in Minnesota, Natalie and I have assisted in grant writing for M Health Fairview to receive needed COVID-19 response funding to meet the healthcare needs of Minnesotans. Our research of Minnesota specific data provided the grant writers with critical insight into how COVID-19 is impacting the population.
Who in the community will benefit most from this work?
[Ann Weston] It is my hope that the grant writing efforts, policy work, and advocacy will enable Minnesota and M Health Fairview to gain much needed resources to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What have you learned through this experience?
[Ann Weston] Through this experience, I have learned that it takes interprofessional, collaborative teamwork from all community members to mobilize and fight this pandemic. It takes commitment from the whole community to keep vulnerable members safe, and although we are all distant from one another, I have felt the community grow stronger.
Please describe acts of kindness, positivity, or goodness that you’re noticing as we deal with this pandemic.
[Ann Weston] Even though this pandemic has shifted the way we live and the way we learn, I feel extremely supported by all of my professors, who begin their emails with “how are you?” and focus on supporting my learning outside of the classroom. The School of Public Health faculty have made incredible changes to their planned curriculum and have successfully transitioned to virtual learning in a very short amount of time.